Recently I have been mostly digesting media second and third hand. This mulch comes to you via Warren Ellis. He writes about an account of a Tinder account where a user set a rule that any male contacting her had to name five books by female authors.
You’ve got to have standards, though! This is being written at some remove from that context, so let’s just see it as a bid to prove my feminazi party line adherence. Anyway, top of the head, straight off, no messing about, here is just such a list.
The Ghost of Thomas Kempe – Penelope Lively
A ‘low fantasy’ novel, this is a complex and deceptively slender book for younger readers. I first read it when I was about 10, I think, so it was a few years older than me. It’s about a boy trying to keep a diary while moving house and being plagued by the poltergeist of a grumpy 17th century wizard, with the parallel story of the diary of a 19th century boy also troubled by the maleficent mage. Possibly seismic effect on youthful psyche?
Bad Blood – Lorna Sage
Not a sororal slap-down in the manner of Taylor Swift, but a crafty anti-misery-memoir. The cover of one paperback print made it look like ‘A child called it’. Subsequent versions have amped up the piratical femme fatale aspects of a different author photo.
“She lifts your spirits even as she hurts your heart.” Allison Pearson.
Same words, different meanings. Discuss.
Sage’s autobiography, as you would expect from someone who edited The Cambridge Guide to Women’s Writing in English (1999), shows she was neither and both. It’s deliciously written, and by the by worth pairing with Oranges are Not the Only Fruit if you’re teaching or studying A level Lit.
Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
First read as a queasy undergraduate scratching my pimples, this one is quite excellent on altered states of perception, “madness”, and perspective. “The leaden circles dissolve in the air.”
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
On the way back from, or to, Liverpool, to look at the university in 1992, or 1993, I forget which or when, I met a fellow prospective undergraduate on the train. We talked and compared notes, bonding over a shared love of Suede (the band, who I think were between Metal Mickey and Animal Nitrate, and so VERY exciting). She commended another Brett, Easton Ellis, and Donna Tartt to me. I had Douglas Coupland and I forget what else to offer. There were lists, bands, etc. I was impressed and intimidated by her studied maturity, and fresh off the train scampered to the shop to pick up a copy of The Secret History. It has of course stayed with me, from youthful bookishness to mature (well, more mature, anyway) bookishness.
Far Away – Caryl Churchill
I only encountered, then taught, this play for the first time last year, but I think that only goes to show how well-organised words, on the page or as drama, can always change your viewpoint, widen your parameters, blow your gaskets.
There you go then. EASY. Me and women writers go way back.